Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek--"The Menagerie, Part I-II"

I am going to combine the only two part episode of TOS into one review since the bulk of content is from the unaired pilot, ’The Cage.” I have already written about how much I liked it, so there is no need to retread old ground. “The Menagerie” was the first of three episodes in Trek history to win the Hugo for best dramatic presentation. I take that as evidence I am not the only one who recognizes the quality of "The Cage.”

All that said, there are some very peculiar elements that make wonder why many fans regard the episodes so highly. It is not just the curt martial plotline being reused not only from the second time in a season, but for three episodes in a row. What bugs me is the incredibly awkward way in which “The Cage” was added to the new material. It was obviously meant to reuse already filmed material in a cost cutting effort, but I think it could have been handled better. I really did not like some of the twists that had to be made to fit it all in.

First, Why did Spock feel the need for the ruse? Even kirk mentions this to him. Would it not have been logical to suggest Pike be sent to Talos Iv to live out his days in blissful illusion? It would especially make sense since Spock already had the approval of the Talosians. He could have suggested the idea long before ever coming into contact with them and never risked the death penalty if Starfleet had nixed the idea. The ruse should have been a method of last resort, if at all, not the first idea Spock came up with.

Second, why does the Federation have a death penalty? Personally, I support the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, so the concept of it does not bother me. But having it as a penalty within the idealistic Federation does not fit. Even being in favor of the death penalty in some cases, I find it petty and barbaric to impose it on what is essentially trespassing. If the Federation wants to forbid travel to Talos Iv, fine. They can do that. But any punishment for traveling there ought to be the Talosians jurisdiction. It is their sovereign planet. The death penalty for traveling to Talos Iv is dumb on both those levels.

Third, could they not have made pike look a little more like Jeffery Hunter or at least done a better job of scarring or obscuring his face? While putting myself in his shoes, I can understand the horror his life must be filled with, but even so, I cannot get passed the realization that looks absolutely nothing like Pike. 8if they were going to go this route, then they should have given him a mask, a la Doctor Doom, and only hinted at how horribly disfigured he was. Such a move would have enhanced the idea he would rather live out his life as an illusion rather than reality. Our imaginations could have come up with something much more horrific than what the makeup department accomplished.

Finally, I think there must have been a better way of including scenes from "The Cage.” Perhaps Spock could have told the story in flashback to Kirk on a shuttlecraft trip or something. At least that way, some of the odd, almost laughable edits would not have occurred. Particularly those final scenes where Vina is revealed to be hideously deformed and kirk has a conversation with a Talosian keeper on a view screen looked worse than some amateur YouTube edits do now. Flashbacks would have much improved thestory, but that is a subjective matter.

For all its faults, I will give “The Menagerie” some kudos. There is a high entertainment value to the story if you do not think about it too hard. One of the reasons you should not think about it too hard is because you will have to wonder why the Talosians never showed up again. The death penalty for contacting them obviously had to be rescinded by the time of the 24th century. Does it not strike you as odd they never showed up again, particularly in desperate situations like the Borg or Dominion invasions when not ony would their advanced technology came in handy, but out of their own survival, they should have been willing to aid the Federation? For my money, the Talosians were the first group of powerful aliens prominent in TOS who should have logically showed up in later series, but never did. Andorians, Gorn, and Tholians also qualify, at least up until ENT, but it is the Talosians that first put the unusual absence in mind.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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